By Michael B. Tager
Welcome to Spec Script, where author Michael B. Tager delves into the unexplored from your (or his) favorite television shows.
Misty loved Cerulean City at dawn. She loved the sound of industry pouring through her open bay windows: shops unshuttering, bicycles chiming, newspapers rustling. It was the sound of industry and life. Laziness had always affronted her, being the youngest of four, but now that she was the Gym Leader—and had been for years—sloth burned. And the warm sounds and smells of her city were comforting. Cerulean City was prosperous, in no small way because of her. Because of her Pokémon. She lived for the mornings, for those first few minutes where the world seemed limitless and still promised her everything she sought, if only she worked for it.
And as the first glow of the morning faded, she felt the rising tide of boredom that had invaded her. She shoved it down, imagined folding it into a little ball that opened and sucked her despair into its depths. For a moment, it worked. Until it didn’t and her dreams vanished with the expelled air. What was left of them.
She rose from the soft canopy bed, sheets stiff with unwashed sweat, and stretched her arms over her head, her mouth a cavern as she yawned. Beneath the large window was a plush pet bed and within it stirred her best/only friend and most favorite Pokémon. The little yellow pocket monster muttered, “Psy-aye-ay,” clutching its head and rubbing it to dispel its ever-present headache. Sometimes she wondered how sad it must be to be so crippled by its own talent. She could teach it, train it to master its powers and evolve. It would grow up if she let it.
She would never let it. Let it remain as stunted as she.
“Psy-aye-ay,” it repeated, unable to say its own name like every other Pokémon that had lived and died. What kind of existence to be unable to know your own name, your own raison d’etre? It could only be the best Psyduck it could be and it was hamstrung from the start.
When she lifted it into her arms, it grumbled in contentment and drowsed. She held it to her chest and remembered what it was like to be warm, if only for a moment. She felt the hint of a smile and said, “Are you ready? Perhaps this will be our big day.”
After a shower and a breakfast of tofu and rice, Misty left for the day. She navigated the wide, clean streets and greeted her neighbors and fellows with a plastered-on grin and wave. She bought an apple from an old woman who bowed to her and said, “Greetings, Gym Master” and was handed a flower by a young boy who said, “I want to be a great Water Pokémon Trainer like you!” For a moment, Misty grinned and patted his head and thanked him for the flower until her crushing boredom returned like a steel cloud.
Occasionally she would pass other Pokémon trainers. Most nodded in deference. Some bowed. She’d defeated them all at one time or another. In fact, she’d beaten everyone at one time or another. It was what it meant to be a gym leader.
Misty reached to her Psyduck who waddled along beside her, scratched the top of its wide bill. “Psy-aye-ay,” it said.
Soon she arrived. Cerulean Gym was wide, its roof a glass dome, segmented triangles pointing at the cloud-covered sky. Once, and for a long time, she’d been happy to see it. She’d worked hard in her youth, traveling the land and capturing Pokémon, honing her skills, all in the service of this goal. But today, the sight achieved nothing. It had achieved nothing for months now. Maybe longer. When had it ceased sparking joy? She wasn’t sure. Had there been a moment when she could have said something? Turned upon a different path? Misty was a woman, in the prime of her life. She’d achieved so much so young. She needed more.
Inside, her assistant rushed to her, his arms filled with red and white Poke-balls. Within them, contained as energy and mist (she didn’t understand the science of it), were her army. Gyarados and Blastoise and so many others, bugs and ghosts and everything in between. For a time, she’d explored other types of Pokémon beyond her water type, to break the spell of ennui. It had worked, for a while. But it had been too easy. Once you’d mastered training, you could train them all. And Misty was tired of catching them when catching was so easy.
Her assistant dumped the balls in her arms, bowed to her and Psyduck and then rushed to say, “You have challengers waiting. Three of them. A boy from Pallet Town and a girl from Viridian City and they say,-“
She held up her hand. “Don’t finish that sentence. I’ll take care of it.”
Deeper within the gym were the boy and girl. She fought the boy first. He was tall for his age (11? 12?) and wore a neon green hat and black bomber jacket. He reminded her a bit of Ash at his age. Just as impetuous and foolish and tiresome.
The boy threw the first Poké Ball and from within the swirling smoke that erupted formed a little purple and green flower ‘mon. “Ralts, I choose you!” he cried. The Ralts was cute and upon a time she might have pulled punches, but why bother? She threw her own Poké Ball and summoned the huge bug, Pinsir. Soon, the little Ralts was severed in half by enormous head-shears, its segmented devoured in a rain of sap and petals. Not long after, after an endless stream of her highly trained Pokémon, it was over and the little boy cried and left. His defeat would stay with him, Misty knew, but by the time the door closed, she’d already forgotten his face.
The little girl with her spiky blonde hair and her series of fire breathers and winged Pokémon fared little better and when defeated, cried, “I’m going to find bigger and better Pokémon so I can come back and defeat you,” and Misty mumbled through the motions of empty encouragement and then the gym was empty. She sat on a magnificent vinyl chair and looked to the heavens through the glass ceiling. “Is this it?” she asked. “Am I wrong in wanting more?”
“Psy-aye-aye.” Psyduck had crawled into her lap, nuzzling her neck.
“Thank you, friend.”
Moments later, her assistant returned. “A very good show, boss.”
“Yes.” She stared at nothing, waiting for him to disappear. When he did not, she looked at him. From this angle, his jowls bloomed and his quivering mustache did no favors. “What is it?”
“Your third challenger.”
“I’d forgotten. And?”
“I ah, I’m not sure it’s anything. But Pokémon are missing.”
Misty blinked. “And?”
He stumbled over his words. “Perhaps you’d like to catch up to him? I overheard him say something about the Cerulean Cave.”
Misty hid the burgeoning smile. Or was it a grimace? She couldn’t tell anymore. “I’ll handle it,” she said. When her assistant retreated, she pet Psyduck. “The world provides.”
After the gym closed and the sun had escaped and the sky was dark with pinpoints of light shining upon the world, Misty locked the doors behind her and patted the Poké Balls attached to her waist. They were all there, her best ones, the strongest and most well-trained. She was ready.
Misty inspected the streets before her, some leading back home, others taking her away. She pondered, wondering what would happen if she simply went home. Tomorrow could be another day, a better one, right? Maybe her old self would emerge and all would be right. Maybe.
She chose and hurried, her red hair bouncing as she ran, Psyduck quacking as it tried to keep up. “Psy-aye-ay.” She did not acknowledge it or look behind her as the city faded into the distance. She passed several wild Pokémon on her way to her destiny: a Hoot-Hoot and a Metapod and even a Squirtle and once she would have stopped and caught them all, with her friends Brock or Ash, but youth no longer flowed in her blood and once was long ago.
Now she stood before the Cerulean Cave, its mouth dark and hungry. It had been many years, but she remembered it well. She said, “Let’s do this,” and inside she ran until her lungs burst, following distant footsteps and dim light and the beating of her own heart as she grew closer and closer until she was at the heart of the cave. She paused to gather her breath.
“Hello, Misty. I thought we might meet.”
“Hello, James,” she said. Before her stood a tall man, his hair parted in the middle and falling to his shoulders. His white shirt, emblazoned with a scarlet R.
“How is Team Rocket these days?”
“Oh you know how it goes,” he said. He twirled, his left foot sliding in the dust like a ballerina, his hand drawing backward as if he drew a sword, his chin to the floor, his forehead angled forward. He held the pose for at least thirty seconds. “Despite your best efforts, Team Rocket is alive and well and I will not be vanquished by the likes of you.”
“Psy-aye-ay,” Psyduck said, bored and unimpressed. Misty could read its bill better than her own.
Jess continued speechifying, about what, Misty didn’t know. Vengeance his sister, for Meowth, for times long past, probably. She didn’t care. Instead, she wondered what it would feel like. Would it work? Should it work? Where had the little girl she used to be gone? What had happened? Was the price of being too good too young…this? The evaporation of dreams and a hardening of the soul? No one could ever beat her. She could not be challenged.
There was a hole inside of her. No Pokémon could fill it. She’d tried money, she’d tried sex, she’d tried everything she could think of but the hole only grew, an unending maw of nothing. She shuddered. She couldn’t live like that forever. She wouldn’t.
James was wrapping up. “…and so, with our new plans and our new Pokémon, we will defeat all the gym leaders and take their place! I will rule Cerulean Gym now that I have your Pokémon.” The scar running across his face gleamed with spittle as he struck another pose, like he was a warrior prince Egret or something. He stood on one leg, the other extended behind him. His right hand reached for the sky, his left arm ended in a fist. He was ready.
Misty sighed, plucked a Poké Ball from her waist and tossed it. It clunked on the ground and she said, “Arbok, come out.” The ball opened, the hissing, giant snake appeared and faced James of Team Rocket. He gasped, his face tightening in anger and repressed grief and threw his own Poké Ball. Misty hardly glanced at it. It didn’t matter.
“Arbok: constrict,” she muttered, pointing.
“Wait, what are you pointing at?” James asked, color bleeding from his cheeks, a film she recognized as fear shadowing his eyes. “No, that’s not what you’re supposed to do…”
“Now, Arbok,” she commanded and it grunted and flared its marked ring neck band, rushed past the rotund Pokémon James had summoned and leapt. Misty’s lips parted as James shrieked, pain and terror dripping from every elongated cry. “Harder, Arbok,” she heard herself say and wondered at the lack of empathy in her voice, the callous gravel in each phrase. James’ Pokémon, uninstructed, wandered into the depths of the cavern. She took little notice of it.
When James collapsed, she called off the attack. “Arbok,” it hissed, releasing the now-unconscious man from its coils. It bowed.
“Yes, well done.” She cradled an empty Poké Ball in her palms. Was she ready for this? There would be no return.
James stirred. She waited until he lifted his head and saw what she held in her hand and deduced her intent. “No,” he moaned. “Please.”
Misty smirked and threw the ball harder than she’d ever thrown before. Harder than her first catch on her long road of being a Pokémon master, harder than the last throw before she stopped caring. And with that throw, she felt blood beat again. In her heart, her eyes, her skin. Yes, she thought, this is wrong. I know it’s wrong. And I can feel again. What joy is life.
The Poké Ball landed and the red light whipped out and embraced James, silencing his shriek until he turned into so much mist and disappeared. When it closed, it made no sound.
Misty picked it up and rattled it, sniffed. Would she be able to command him, should she call him forth? Would she be able to train him? Or was he just an addition to the menagerie, the start of a whole new collection? Would she be able to command his Pokémon, through him?
There were others out there. Trainers. Constantly roaming the land, catching and challenging. Many would come to her. Some she would find herself, roaming the hills and deserts and mountains. Hunting. Why, she might even go to the gyms. Catch them all.
Her pet Pokémon sidled up to her and raised its bill. “Psy-aye-ay.,” it said and it continued, concentrating, “Psyduck.”
She absentmindedly stroked it to sleep. “Yes,” she said. “You have the right of it.”
Michael B. Tager is a Baltimore-based writer and editor. More of his work can be found at michaelbtager.com. Likes include garden gnomes, cats, tacos and Prince.